As Muslim crowds dissipate and American diplomatic missions return to normal activities, here are three final thoughts on the riots that began this Sept. 11 and killed about thirty:
The movie really did matter: The Obama administration dishonestly skirted responsibility for the murder of four Americans in Libya by claiming that the attack was a protest that got unpredictably out of hand against the "Innocence of Muslims" video. In response, leading analysts have concluded that the video hardly mattered anywhere. Barry Rubin scorns the video as a "phony excuse for the demonstration" in Egypt. Michael Ledeen upbraids the administration for claiming "that attacks against Americans aren't attacks against Americans at all, but attacks against a video." "It is not about a video," writes Andrew McCarthy, "any more than similar episodes in recent years have been about cartoons, teddy-bears, accidental Koran burnings, etc." Hussein Haqqani dismisses the protests as a "function of politics, not religion." For Victor Davis Hanson, the video and similar incidents "are no more than crude pretexts to direct fury among their ignorant and impoverished masses at opportune times against the United States, and thereby gain power." Lee Smith speculates that "blaming the video is part of some complex public diplomacy campaign." Cliff Kinkaid flatly calls the video "a diversion intended to save Obama's presidency."
I respect and learn from all these writers, but disagree about the video. Yes, individuals, organizations, and governments goaded the mobs – indeed, there always needs to be some instigator who mobilizes Muslims against an offending statement, text, drawing, or video. But it would be a mistake to see the mob as but a tool of clashing interests (such as Salafis vs. Muslim Brothers in Egypt) or American political imperatives. Rage directed at the video was heartfelt, real, and persistent.